You retire days before the start of practice, your assistant steps in, the team goes to the Final Four two of the next three years. Enough said about “Gut.”
DAVE MARTIN/AP PHOTO
Oct. 9, 1997: Gut decision
The transfer of head coaching reins, unlike
the two regime changes that followed, was
both smooth and successful. There was no prolonged public search,
no acrimony. What’s more, while some suspected the timing was
manipulated to produce an unavoidable result, the choice of Bill
Guthridge to replace Dean Smith affirmed the very qualities —
continuity, loyalty, tradition — that marked Carolina basketball in
the last third of the 20th century.
“You’re losing Coach Smith,” said All-American Antawn Jami-
son ’ 99, “but Coach Guthridge is the only person who can come
close to him.”
Guthridge served as Smith’s assistant for 30 years, becoming as
integral to the program as the light blue and white of its uniforms.
He replaced Larry Brown on the coaching staff in 1967 and
remained at Smith’s side through 16 first-place ACC finishes, 12
ACC Tournament titles, 10 Final Four appearances, two NCAA
titles and one NIT and a U.S. Olympic gold medal in 1976.
“Coach Gut,” as players called him, twice turned down other
head coaching positions, the last at Penn State in 1978. He subsequently spurned all job inquiries and concentrated on instructing
the Tar Heel big men, shepherding the team on the road and
ensuring the clockwork precision of every aspect of the program.
“Bill Guthridge is the most organized person I’ve ever known,”
said Smith, a stickler for detail whose practices were meticulously
Succeeding his longtime colleague was not part of Guthridge’s
plan. “I was thrilled just to be his assistant,” he says. “For years, I
thought that’s the way I would end up — when he retired, I’d
retire. The way it developed, I really wasn’t ready to retire.”
Smith first tired of a head coach’s extracurricular duties “toward
the end of the ’80s,” Guthridge recalls. “He’d say, ‘Bill, I don’t know
whether I can do another year or not.’ ” The assistant coach
encouraged his boss to play as much golf as he could and organ-
ized the staff to do most of the off-season work. “And then, usually
in August, he’d say, ‘I’m fired up, ready to go!’ ”
The summer of 1997 was different, much to the chagrin
of Dick Baddour ’ 66, newly installed as UNC’s director of athlet-
ics. Smith, whose 879 career wins then ranked as the most ever
by a major college coach, confided to Baddour he was not feeling
“re-energized” and might retire. “I remember telling him I didn’t
want to have any such conversation,” the AD says. Nevertheless,
by the first week in October, with the start of basketball practice
approaching, the 36-year head coach was ready to hang up his
Smith had his replacement already selected. “I wasn’t surprised
The 1997-98 Heels won 34 games, captured the ACC Tourna-
by his support of Bill Guthridge,” Baddour says. “It was exactly
what I expected. For me, it was easy. That’s what I wanted.”
Guthridge readily accepted despite the likelihood of harsh com-
parisons with his Hall of Fame predecessor. Those came, but so, too,
did 80 victories, tying Guthridge with Everett Case, the hall of famer
from N.C. State, for most wins after three years as a head coach.
Guthridge’s two-year win total ( 58) was best in NCAA history.
ment title, and reached the Final Four. The 1999-2000 team,
Guthridge’s last before he likewise tired of off-season demands, also
reached the Final Four.